Words by Adam Kaye :: Images by Josh Mishell

Yonder Mountain String Band
02.03 :: Meridian :: Houston, TX & 02.04 :: La Zona Rosa :: Austin, TX

"You saw the same band two nights in a row?!?"

If you're ever faced with this question, recommend that your inquiring friend or family member listen to Yonder Mountain String Band's 02.03.06 and 02.04.06 shows and get back with you.

YMSB :: Texas
Last weekend, for the first time in a year, Nederland, Colorado's Yonder Mountain String Band visited Texas for a quick two-step in Houston and Austin, and the experiences were like night and day. Friday night in Houston was a textbook example of how not to treat your audience or the performers that you're seeing, and Saturday night in Austin felt like a four-hour love-fest among everybody present. Of course a bad night of Yonder isn't exactly like the honky-tonk scene from The Blues Brothers, just a whole lot closer to that than the average night for these guys.

Friday night's show in Houston took place exactly 364 days after their last visit to the very same room, and it was obvious the majority of those in attendance were there last year as well, judging by the number of times the fact was mentioned. Meridian was a fairly deceiving venue. From the outside, it's an ugly warehouse in a semi-industrial area not far from downtown. Walk up the exterior stairs and past the ticket-taker, and you're transported to an equally sketchy club that's a combination of Road House and the pool hall from Dazed and Confused. But as you walk through the skinny hallway and into the actual music venue, you see a much nicer room with multiple bars around the outside of the floor. Look closely and you could tell it was basically a converted airport hangar, but for our purposes, it did just fine. Through the windows, you could see highways and an adult DVD store, which is the case through many windows in Houston.

Adam Aijala :: Texas
The setlist had the boards excited the next morning, but there was definitely something lacking between the band and the fans in attendance. Perhaps it was the end of the long work week, but the crowd just didn't seem to be feeding the band with the energy that they're used to receiving. And while the band closed both sets in impressive fashion, that wasn't until after they had spent too much time acknowledging the fact that something seemed to be missing. The band members spoke in terms of "You" and "Us" and made no secret of the fact that the inter-band/crowd magic on which our scene thrives was desperately lacking from the night's festivities. At one point, lead mandolin and nutty professor Jeff Austin said, "We'll keep digging it. You keep pushing us in," accompanied by a shovel motion. And Dave Johnston spoke of his mostly feigned concern about being shot onstage by a lover's scorned ex-boyfriend in response to somebody foolishly attempting to climb onto the stage.

The first set opened with the steady build-up of "Years With Rose" and included high-energy covers of Dylan's "Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" and Willie Nelson's "Good Hearted Woman." Playing Willie in Texas is as much of a sure thing as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in Seattle or "Franklin's Tower" at The Fillmore, and this tune definitely drew the loudest response from the lackadaisical crowd. But the highlight of the set was easily the set-closing "Dear Prudence," which was sandwiched in the middle of "If There's Still Ramblin' in the Rambler (let him go)." Dave Johnston's unique banjo playing seemed to be filling spaces in between the notes usually reserved for that instrument, and Austin's hyper-energetic lead vocals really tied everything together.

Ben Kaufmann :: Texas
The second set opened with a really nice version of "No Expectations" but seemed to lag a little until "Snow on the Pines," which featured an extended disco break led by Ben Kaufmann's bass. "Snow on the Pines" stopped on a dime, and then the opening notes of Pink Floyd's "Goodbye Blue Sky" slid over the crowd. Considering Yonder's instrumentation, it was a bit of a surprise to see how closely their version resembled the original. They returned quickly for an encore of "Steep Grade Sharp Curves" and Danny Barnes's "Crow Jane" and didn't let the door hit them in the back on the way out.

For the Yonder faithful, Saturday afternoon included a nice drive to Austin for the night's show at La Zona Rosa. While the trip takes less than three hours, you might as well have arrived in another country. The landscape is green and hilly instead of flat and paved over, and the people are, how do you say, chiller. Unfortunately, La Zona Rosa is no less like an airport hangar than Meridian, but the energy flowing between the individuals in the room made it difficult to notice you were dancing inside a building that could have once been a Dollar Store.

From the first note, everything about Saturday night's show was better than the night before – everything except for the fact that the band couldn't stop talking about how bad Houston had been to them. Houston was obviously a traumatic experience for the Yonder fellas, and they responded by pouring their hearts into Austin's show. Even before they picked up their instruments, they spoke of Houston "kicking our ass" and one of them acknowledged, "We need to be more friendly." As to whether the crowd was going to do a better job of responding to and feeding the band, that fact was made clear immediately after the first song when Drunkford McTastic exclaimed, "Come On, Baby!" at the top of his lungs. A slower number, "Sometimes I've Won," wasn't supposed to work according to Kaufmann, but it went over great. The next highlight was "Idaho," during which the band's handsome harmonies came to the foreground.

Jeff Austin :: Texas
Midway through the first set, Two High String Band's Billy Bright (mandolin) stepped in to share the spotlight and remained onstage until the end of the set. This double mandolin attack produced some fast and fun jamming without anybody stepping on toes or crowding anybody out of the sound. Bright's addition meant a focus on bluegrass, and the crowd ate it up. Danny Barnes's wacky "Fun Time" and Bill Monroe's classic "Kentucky Mandolin" were clean and bright before they closed the set with "On the Run" > "Death Trip" > "On the Run."

The second set was tons of fun, and it seemed to last and last. It started patient and nice with "Nothing But Nothing" and "River," which is on the new live Mountain Tracks 4 along with the Talking Heads' "Girlfriend Is Better." Many reached nirvana during "Keep On Going" > (Neil Young's) "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" > "Keep On Going," like the flip-flopped tripper dancing so fast his feet couldn't keep up and his buddy who hit the ground next to him when he fell to keep him from feeling too embarrassed. The segment was dedicated to Split Lip Rayfield's Kirk Rundstrom, and he would have loved every minute of it if he had been in town for it. Another Willie cover, "Bloody Mary Morning," elicited hoots and hollers before Billy Bright was invited back out for "Sonny's Ride," "Picture In A Tear," and "Peace of Mind." The pretty and mellow "Holding" closed the set before a relatively quick "Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown" encore sent everybody back to their cars with a plan for the ride home.

There's something about this band that feels really comfortable. Their youthful energy and goofy demeanor make you want to say, "I'll have what they're having." As for the "off" night in Houston, that's to be expected once in a while when you're playing 90-100 shows a year. These guys need mountains nearby, and who can blame them? It costs a lot of money to get a bus and all of their equipment down here, and no matter where they're headed next (Tampa, Florida in this case), it's a long way from here. Though they might not always make it obvious, the music fans down here really appreciate bands going to the trouble. And if the magic ever isn't there, there's always tomorrow night's show.

JamBase | Texas
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[Published on: 2/13/06]

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radiohead85 starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 05:02PM
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Great article. I was at the Yonder show at 2-4-06 in Austin, exactly two years from the first time I saw them. Really great vibes all around. I loved "Kentucky Mandolin" "Funtime" and the Neil Young cover. Also the Ebenezer Rap was a nice twist on the talking head's girlfriend is better. Billy Bright sat in for most of the show, added some more depth to the music. great show cant wait to see yonder at wakarusa.

kvoelkel Mon 2/13/2006 05:24PM
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I have never witnessed a bad yonder show, dont know what went wrongs in Houston

dannymo starstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 06:25PM
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"bad" yonder = most bands "dream" show. i love my Nederland heroes!! YEEEE HAWWW

TheJuice starstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 08:34PM
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Yonder lit up the Tabernacle in ATL sat. night. They had the flecktones lightman, and they videoed the damn thing. excellent crowd

venusairbutterfly starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/13/2006 11:17PM
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I was at houston and austin show!! Austin show was beautiful! I am curious as to which person was climbing on stage though in Houston!! I must have missed it!!! YMSB, you put the love in everyone around you!! Looking forward to Wakarusa!!

pat5507 Tue 2/14/2006 06:42AM
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just saw ymsb in atl and they were freakin awesome

gallen Tue 2/14/2006 07:38AM
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While I enjoyed your article, you seem to be blaming the crowd here in my town of Houston for the bands performance. I agree that the show was not that great, however, it was not in any way only the crowds fault. The band was "a little off" that night. In my opinion it happens every now and then. Music fans here in Houston are great and get excited when a band such as YMSB comes to town.

glachal starstarstarstar Tue 2/14/2006 07:43AM
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I thought the Houston show was pretty awesome - at least the band was on - and it's just about as good as you can expect for a crowd in Houston. We actually brought 5 friends who have never seen YMSB before who now consider themselves fans and will definitely see them again if they came back. Sorry our city is so lame; some of us are cool!

cookiemonster starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/14/2006 09:44AM
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Having seen yonder a couple of times I have to say they are wicked good, and can get a room going. the houston show sounds pretty solid as well. I get tired of the banter though, its annoying banter too. At least I can skip over it at home.

PapaBear13 starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/14/2006 09:52AM
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Saw them in Austin, they did dog Houston, but as anyone in Texas can tell you, Houston sucks! Death trip was awesome, everyone knows was inspired, and the double smoke-song closer and encore had everyone into it... great show!

Hurls starstarstarstar Tue 2/14/2006 12:22PM
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YMSB is easily one of the best touring bands in the scene, hands down. Thanks for the article!

Marcsmall Tue 2/14/2006 04:10PM
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Never seen these guys outside the state of Colorado...Now I don't ever want to....They are my favorite band touring right now, and I've been seeing them since '99 when they used to play the Coffehouse in Ned.

goeb0035 starstar Tue 2/14/2006 10:03PM
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marcsmall, not to burst your bubble but the boys can tear outside of CO!! Good articl but they could atleast get all the song names right if your doing an article on the band. I'LL be in CBUS, rocking it, hope to see everyone there!

hiddentreasure Tue 2/14/2006 11:55PM
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Saw 'em in Columbia, Mo back in Jan. Let me tell ya'll it alleviated my cabin fever (or maybe encouraged it?)! As a recent transplant to the Midwest, it's good to see the heat brought and not reserved for the coasts and the mountains.

JoeyTheFoot starstarstarstarstar Wed 2/15/2006 05:26AM
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Woohooo Can't Wait For 2 Nights of YMSB this weekend in Asheville, NC. And to whomever said they'll never see Yonder outside of Colo. You have no clue what your missing when they come to the Hills of old North Carolina...

sunlee starstarstarstar Wed 2/15/2006 12:57PM
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Nice how you capture the vibe of the crowd, venue, city and band. In my humble opinion these guys are in my top 3 bands to go see live, I just think they put out a great vibe. However I 've heard Houston is a concrete jungle much like those other fattest cities in the country that TX claims fame to. Texadelphi to the rescue.

jhorn starstar Wed 2/15/2006 11:32PM
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whats with the all houston hate, look...houston is what it is, austin is what it is...and if you can't come down here (to houston) and throw down like we go up there (to austin) and throw down, then that says more about you than us...there were a lot of houston folks, including folks who are from houston and took the first train out to austin, in that crowd who were digging what was going down..

houston will never compare to austin as far as the scene goes, but that should be understood...it was balls to the wall for those of us comfortable with houston...if you're out your element, then don't come down and get dirty with else, stay nice and clean up in austin, perhaps you can chill in westlake for a minute or two

Sarahflower starstarstarstar Thu 2/16/2006 06:52AM
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Yonder was the biggest at Big Summer Classic last year in CT. Love and miss them. As far as Houston...it happens sometimes. At the end of the day, they keep rockin it for me.

Hans starstarstarstarstar Thu 2/16/2006 07:21AM
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Caught them just after this in Jax during the Florida run. Brought the house down, just like last year. How could anyone NOT get into these guys? <3

shadyit17 starstarstarstar Thu 2/16/2006 11:15AM
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Sorry to hear about Houtston. Anytime I've seen Yonder it has been a great time! Can't wait for the two night stand in Asheville. Last time they were there they rocked out hard.

Lauraborealis starstarstarstar Sat 2/18/2006 09:31AM
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All of my YMSB shows over the past four years have been amazing, but that Austin show was one of the best I've ever been to. . . all I have to say about Houston is that it's definitely the type of city where things go wrong. Last time I went there for music someone broke into my car! Now I stay in the hill country, where the love is!

Jellyphish23 star Wed 2/22/2006 06:57AM
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Why is there a need to badmouth Houston in general for one poor performance? For those of you who think Houston sucks, you really don't have a clue. If Yonder wants great shows here, they should go back the Last Concert Cafe and/or start working with Tapir Productions again.

And for the record, I'm looking out my window just minutes from downtown Houston and I don't see a highway or a porn shop.

economi starstarstarstarstar Fri 3/3/2006 07:01PM
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I flew from the west coast to Florida for the 3 show there and the "kickass" Atlanta show. On my touring vacation I caught up with Jeff Austin in Ft. Lauderdale and he was STILL bummed out about the Houston show. He and the band's stage manager went off for about 5 minuets about how bad their experience was.

This is one band that responds to excitment coming from the audience. If they sounded "a little off" it can only be expected, how could they be on point if they don't feel like they where getting an equal transaction of energy from the stage to audience.

It sounds like the boys could use a "Houston Hug"! Hell poor Jeff was diggin' his grave on stage!